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So, I could write a really polite open letter. You know, kind of a figurative tap on the shoulder to say: "Hey guys, when you're writing and commenting about these charges against Julian Assange, you're sort of perpetuating awful stereotypes and sexist arguments about women and rape..."
Fuck polite. I am so done with polite.
I'll begin with an uber-basic overview: Julian Assange is the Director of WikiLeaks, a not-for-profit media organization that, according to the original website, provides an "innovative, secure and anonymous way for sources to leak information to our journalists." This year, WikiLeaks has been releasing thousands upon thousands of classified and secret US documents regarding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and now diplomatic cables. Bonanza! Unsurprisingly, some folks, like the US government and military, aren't too pleased about it.
But the subject of this rant is the discussion surrounding the sexual assault charges. In August 2010, an investigation was opened in Sweden regarding allegations that Assange had raped one women and sexually harassed another woman that same month while in Sweden. The investigation went full steam ahead and charges were filed by a Swedish prosecutor for rape, sexual molestation, and unlawful coercion, according to press reports, although translations of legal charges do not always do the original charges justice. In November, after a Stockholm court approved a detention request to question Assange, an Interpol red notice and a European Arrest Warrant were both issued.
One main reaction has been that these are trumped up investigations and charges, that the timing in relation to the leaking of important documents is no coincidence, and that prosecution is rather, shall we say, zealous.
People say "but these charges are trumped up! the charges are bogus!" and that may be true and it may not. But why is the starting point for discussion the dismissal of the allegations? You know, it IS POSSIBLE that Julian Assange DID sexually assault a woman in Sweden AND that the charges are trumped up in a way and dealt with in a certain way because of his work with WikiLeaks.
So let's get this straight. You can wrap your head around the fact that there is cross-border collusion and manipulation by police, judicial, and other governmental authorities from various countries... and I agree that there is... but you cannot understand that there may *also* have actually been a sexual assault? Just because someone is being persecuted for their work means that they cannot be guilty of something like sexual harassment?
If you can't see that your logic is flawed and that one (persecution) does not exclude the other (sexual assault), maybe you shouldn't write an article about it. And if you are going to get into the whole issue and write about it in your blog or article or facebook status or whatever, why isn't your starting point the allegation of sexual assault made by the woman instead of its outright dismissal or an attack against her?
Why is the reaction "this is bogus!" as opposed to "why can't the investigation and prosecution of all sex crimes worldwide be so damn efficient?" Seriously. If there is persecution of Assange through the legal system, it is only clear because the reaction is so uncommon. Imagine if women denouncing rape and sexual assault were taken so seriously that there were immediate and thorough investigations, charges filed in a timely manner, and arrest warrants enforced so enthusiastically as in this case. This rarely happens.
Another main reaction, actually probably the principal point of discussion, concerns the details of the allegations and charges. Obviously, none of us can really know for sure what went on in someone else's bedroom, but Assange does admit to consensual sex with the two women making the allegations.
The rape allegation stems from an incident that began as consensual sex using a condom. According to most accounts, something happened to this condom (broken, split, removed, whatever, take your pick). Also according to most accounts, at some point the woman protested concerning the lack of protection, and later also protested that Assange reportedly refused to go for STD testing. And I'm sure there will be a shitstorm of responses explaining to me how I'm wrong because, you know, other people were, like, there.
The next messed up debate is over whether what happened constituted rape or sexual assault. Apparently there's a little-used law in Sweden that can land you up to two years in jail for sex without a condom. I don't know what the details are, but I'm assuming it's a little more complex than that?! Anyways, according to her own account, the woman's main issue was that at some point during consensual sex with a condom, the condom [fill in your blank here with some version that basically means the condom is now ineffective]. And that later on, after she protested the lack of protection, her request to Assange that he get tested for STDs was refused.
Swedish laws aside, a lot of the discussion going on seems to center on whether or not the sex was consensual, and what the definition of consensual is, since it's such a subjective issue. Wait! What the fuck?
For some thoughts on the matter, I'm going to turn to the only post I have seen that sheds some sanity on the discussion. Oh, wait, it's also the only post on the subject written by a woman that I have seen. Oh yeah, and also the only post written by someone who publicly identifies as a survivor of sexual assault that I have seen.
"It doesn't matter whether a woman consented to have sex with you. If she tells you to stop, and you don't stop, that is still sexual assault. I don't care how frustrating it is or whether you hate her for the rest of your life for it. Sex you have with someone without their permission is rape.
Let's say that again: Sex you have with someone without their permission is rape.
One more time just for clarity: Sex you have with someone without their permission is rape.
Does that tell me whether Assange did what he's accused of doing? Nope. I just don't know. And neither do you."
Although, sadly, if men haven't picked up on what consent is by now, I'm not sure even the clear, enunciated repetition will help make it sink in.
So I've addressed a few of the issues that seem to have come up again and again, even in comments from men I know and for whom I have generally felt respect. But let's take a look at what some of the articles being re-posted all over social media networks and email lists look like with a couple concrete examples.
To start off, how about taking a look at Counterpunch, since it is relatively well-known by progressive folks, and in particular, the article Assange Beseiged: Making a Mockery of the Real Crime of Rape by Israel Shamir and Paul Bennett. Calling the allegations "farcical rape charges," Shamir and Bennett write: "Julian Assange now stands accused of: (1) not calling a young woman the day after he had enjoyed a night with her, (2) asking her to pay for his bus ticket, (3) having unsafe sex, and (4) participating in two brief affairs in the course of one week."
Those are clearly not the accusations. Repeating irrelevant details, except perhaps for "having unsafe sex," comes across as dismissive and mocking. The inclusion of irrelevant information and the exclusion of relevant information is misleading and serves to discredit the woman alledging sexual assault.
Shamir and Bennett go on to elaborate on "her anti-Castro, pro-CIA streak" and that she "apparently indulges in her favorite sport of male-bashing," something they learned from a "Swedish forum" and then continued to discuss in detail. Wait, a forum as in a chat forum, right? So if I find some random chat forum online that talks about how Shamir and Bennett are evil warlocks and discusses how they apparently indulge in their favourite sport of infant-bashing, can I report it as fact and publish my piece on Counterpunch too?
Or what if I actually shared the source? Let's say that I checked out the May 2004 issue of Searchlight, a UK-based monthly print magazine against racism and fascism that has been around for 35 years. Let's say that I specifically read the article "Israeli Writer is Swedish Anti-Semite" by Tor Bach, Sven Johansen and Lise Apfelblum.
I know, the title kind of sounds like a conspiracy theory, but the well-researched article is actually about Counterpunch author Israel Shamir aka Joran Jermas. He changed his name to Jermas in 2001, roughly around the time he started publishing online under the name Israel Shamir. The Searchlight article breaks down Shamir/Jermas' own virulent anti-Semitism, but also his close connections to fascists and conspiracy theorists. Now, there's nothing wrong with having friends who are into shape-shifting lizards, but the article also details a series of lies told and written by Shamir/Jermas regarding his identity, residence, and former employment.
Apparently Counterpunch co-editor Alexander Cockburn didn't do much digging into either authors or sources, because Cockburn cited the aforementioned article co-authored by Shamir in his own recent article "Julian Assange: Wanted by the Empire, Dead or Alive." Granted, Cockburn certainly does not delve into the issue much, or replicate some of Shamir's more ludicrous statements, but the third paragraph of his article certainly echoes Shamir's dismissal of the rape allegations quite closely: "[Assange is] wanted in Sweden for questioning in two alleged sexual assaults, one of which seems to boil down to a charge of unsafe sex and failure to phone his date the following day."
Cockburn's next two paragraphs quote Shamir/Jermas about the alledged "ties to the US-financed anti-Castro and anti-communist groups" of one of the women accusing Assange. These ominous "ties" may exist, but they both overstated and self-referencing back to Shamir.
What is fascinating to me is that Counterpunch co-editor Cockburn only attributes the quotes to Shamir, when the Counterpunch article - also linked to by Cockburn - is clearly co-authored by Shamir and Paul Bennett. When I googled Israel Shamir, I immediately found the Searchlight article and a whole slew of information concerning his sketchiness. But I'm now looking for anything on Paul Bennett but can find no record of such a person except as an online co-author with Shamir/Jermas on articles about Assange and how the sexual assault charges are bogus and how the woman is connected to the CIA. (cue X files music! shape-shifting lizards!)
Ok, seriously folks, CIA ties or not is not the issue here. *But* since what has been said about it in multiple articles and by multiple people all seems to come back to the words of Israel Shamir aka Joran Jermas aka one hell of a sketchy dude, let's see what he says on the subject.
Shamir says that Anna Ardin, who alledges that Assange sexually assaulted her, published a couple articles in Swedish in some Cuba review journal. Apparently professor Michael Seltzer (oh shit, this isn't one of Shamir/Jermas' conspiracy theory buddies, is it?) says the publication is a product of a "well-financed anti-Castro organization in Sweden" which in turn has links to Union Liberal Cubana, led by Carlos Alberto Montaner, who has been accused of being linked to the CIA.
That's right. She published a couple anti-Castro articles in a journal linked to an organization linked to an organization led by a guy with ties to the CIA. Oh, and in Cuba, she "interacted with" a feminist anti-Castro group that is supported by Luis Posada Carriles. The thousands of posts online about how this woman's sexual assault allegations are bogus because of her "CIA ties" come back to those indirect connections alledged by Shamir/Jermas.
That's it? That's fucking it? That is everyone's proof that the sexual assault charges must be a sham? I love how just the mention of "CIA ties" gets people up in arms about how the woman alledging sexual assault is a tool of the CIA to discredit Assange. Maybe so, maybe not. But all of the available written material essentially comes down to the fact that if you replace Kevin Bacon with Luis Posada Carriles, you could play 6 degrees of separation with the woman? Hell, I bet I would only be a couple degrees of separation from Luis Posada Carriles...
Jesus, Murphy... Kirk James Murphy, M.D., in fact. He also referenced the whole "CIA" connections and anything he could come up with to discredit the allegations of sexual assault in a post that has been circulating way too much. It is pretty awesome that he starts out by giving props to the Counterpunch folks who "broke" the story.
Actually, in light of the above examination, the title is pretty hilarious: Assange Accuser Worked with US-Funded, CIA-Tied Anti-Castro Group. But let's leave the CIA and get back to the rape. Check out this paragraph:
"I’ve spent much of my professional life as a psychiatrist helping women (and men) who are survivors of sexual violence. Rape is a hideous crime. Yet in Assange’s case his alleged victim – the gender equity officer at Uppsula University – chose to throw a party for her alleged assailant..."
Do I need to hold anyone's hand through this? I'm a big dick shrink and therefore I get to say when it's rape and when it's not. Her job as a gender equity officer at a University means she can't possible be raped. She knew her alledged assailant, so she couldn't have been raped. She threw him a party, so she *definitely* couldn't have been raped. Wow, it's like a course! The Perpetuation of Rape Myths 101.
That paragraph is what started this whole rant. That piece - along with the two Counterpunch pieces - was posted on facebook by people I know. When I say people, I mean, you know, "progressive" people. Wait, scratch out the "people" and replace it with "men."
When I passionately objected to the rape myths being perpetuated in a disgusting way in that particular paragraph, the response I got, including from a friend (yeah, you guessed it, of the penis-wielding variety) was the whole "CIA ties! She's 6 degrees of separation from Posada Carriles!"
Holy shape-shifting lizards! Fuck you!
Okay, well, I wouldn't want to sign off without letting Shamir (and Bennett?) wax poetic: "We need our captain Neo, whether chaste or womanizer, in order to uncover the secret doings of our governments behind the Matrix. For our own sakes, we must all do our part to protect him from castrating feminists and secret services alike."
Oh my god! The issue is about protecting a womanizer from castrating feminists for our own sakes! Of course! (slaps forehead) Why didn't I understand that before I was sidetracked by all of those pesky sexual assault charges and rape myth perpetuations?
Seriously though, guys, don't call him "our captain Neo." First of all, Morpheus is a captain - Neo's captain, in fact - not Neo. But more importantly, Neo is WAY hotter than Assange...
For those of you who are sick and tired of the whole Julian Assange saga and all of the cult-of-personality shit, power to you! I mean, if people want to find a hero, try supporting Bradley Manning, the 23-year-old US Army intelligence analyst who [is accused of actually leaking] the documents and whose legal persecution will not resemble a soap opera.*
I personally wish that Julian Assange were some asexual, ugly, pimply, suspender-wearing teenager with braces who lives in his mom's basement. Maybe then people would spend more time discussing the actual leaked documents and cables, as opposed to arguing about how there's no way some anti-Castro, gender-equity-working, Assange-acquainted woman who originally consented to sex with Assange and threw him a party could possibly ever be sexually assaulted by him.
But if someone you love and respect posts a disgusting piece full of bullshit sexist arguments about women and rape on the whole Assange saga, don't let it go unchecked. Hell, if some asshole you hate posts something vile of the sort, feel free to hurl the link to this rant like a molotov cocktail onto their facebook wall with such force that it shatters their screen.
Written by Sandra Cuffe and a whole lot of coffee. No shape-shifting lizards were harmed in the writing of this rant.
* This sentence was edited on December 9th, in response to a comment (below) made by Melinda. The original sentence - "Bradley Manning... who actually leaked the documents" - was factually incorrect. The hyperlink to the Bradley Manning Support Network was also added on December 9th, 2010. - S.C.